Friday, November 30, 2012

Discovering the Reason for the Season in All of Christmas

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, "Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us." So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. (Luke 2:15-18)

When asked “Why do we celebrate Christmas?” most kids will recite the Sunday School answer, “because it’s Jesus’ birthday!”  As Christians we all know that’s true, but our culture has added so much more to the season that sometimes it’s hard to find time and space to “fit in” Jesus.  Instead of trying (impossibly) to keep separate the Christian side of Christmas from the secular side, I say why not look for ways to find Jesus IN the hustle and bustle of the season!  One of the easiest ways you can do that is by participating in the Christmas activities we have planned here at church over the next few weeks.  We have created an 

Advent Calendar that can be used with kids as a way to focus each day even for a few minutes on the birth of Christ.  We have incorporated Hanging of the Green, Carols, Candles, and Children, and the advent candles into our calendar so you can extend what happens at church to your discussions at home.  While it seems like one more thing you have to find time for this season I think you’ll find your kids actually look forward to the advent activities each day and are excited about what each day’s note will bring.  This year we have added some different activities that allow your family to simply enjoy spending time together – something that often gets lost in this most busy time of year.

So what about all the other Christmas stuff that goes on this season?  Decorating the Christmas tree, Christmas performances at school, countless Christmas parties, Christmas music, looking at lights, and don’t forget about Santa!  I think there are certainly ways to incorporate Jesus into all these activities.  Listen to KLTY or another Christian music station for Christmas music.  When you look at lights, talk about how Jesus is a light in a dark world and how we should act like a light to others so they can see Jesus in us.  If Santa visits your house, talk about how Santa gives us gifts on Christmas but God gave us the best gift of all when he gave us Jesus on Christmas.  You could also discuss how God gives us gifts all year long as blessings – not just at Christmas.  You could even have a birthday party on Christmas day (one of our advent calendar activities) to celebrate his birth!

We all know Jesus is the Reason for the Season, but sometimes it is hard to keep that focus each day.  Make an effort to look for Jesus in your holiday activities this season and I think you’ll find he has been there all along!

The savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the City of David!  Luke 2:11 (NLT)

(submitted by Tamra Gutierrez)

Qualities of a Powerful Fellowship Part V

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. 1 Peter 3:8-9

The People are Humble and Forgiving
Real humility is found in honest awareness of who we really are in relation to God and others.  Paul encouraged the Philippians to Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-8 

God’s people should be humble.  The very nature of Christ in us is that of a servant who has given up all rights and position for the privilege of serving the Master and His purpose.  In a world focused on individual rights and privileges, it is the Christian who stands out serving others in a spirit of humility.
It is also humility that opens our lives for receiving ministry "from" others, as well as giving "to" others.  Many are willing to give but have a hard problem receiving.  Their pride blocks the provision of God through others and creates a wedge between themselves and others who want the joy of giving.  We are never above need and therefore never above receiving in humility and gratitude for God’s provision through His people

It is the spirit of humility that makes possible the next attribute of a quality fellowship...not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead.  This is certainly something that Jesus spoke of repeatedly in teaching His disciples.  It was not just what Christ taught but what He exampled.  Look at these words from 1 Peter 2:21-24.  This is the kind of life you've been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step. He never did one thing wrong, Not once said anything amiss. They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right. He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing.

In the church, the act of forgiveness is the evidence of God’s grace, mercy and love in the lives of believers.  It flows from the hearts of a people who have experienced the fullness of God’s gift of salvation and humbled themselves to the purpose and ministry of Christ. 

Christ’s words from the cross are the pinnacle of living out forgiveness.  But Jesus was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." Luke 23:34  In the face of His accusers and even torturers He made a decision; He would forgive and ask His Father to do the same.

Why would a believer seek these qualities in his/her life?  Peter clearly states, for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.  Why?  To be blessed.

May God bless you today by making you a blessing.  May God place you in a fellowship of believers who value these qualities and seek to live them out in a community of faith.

Scripture to Claim
But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:27-28

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Qualities of a Powerful Fellowship Part IV

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. 1 Peter 3:8-9

The People are Kindhearted (Compassionate)
Mamie Adams always went to a branch post office in her town because the postal employees there were friendly. She went there to buy stamps just before Christmas one year and the lines were particularly long. Someone pointed out that there was no need to wait in line because there was a stamp machine in the lobby. "I know," said Mamie, 'but the machine won't ask me about my arthritis."

Here is the driving force for ministry...a tender heart.  It was a tender heart that moved His heart as He looked at the people “trampled and broken without a shepherd.”  It was a tender heart that reached out to the leprous, dying, sinful tax collectors and a disciple who denied Him.  It was a tender heart that sent the Savior to the cross. 

But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? (1 John 3:17) KJV 

The term “bowels of compassion” was used to describe the seat of emotions or, as we would say today, the heart.  Have your insides ever been shaken in seeing the need of someone hurting, ashamed, or broken?  Compassion is not a logical response to a recognized need.  It is an inner anguish that physically affects us when confronted with the pain of this world and demands our attention.

As you read the scriptures you cannot help but see the compassion that Jesus had for others.  His heart was not prejudiced by race, creed, color, political platform, economic or social standing.  His heart was recklessly compassionate.

Matthew 9:36 ... He saw the masses of people in their helpless plights of life and was "moved" with compassion.

Matthew 14:14 ... Seeing the sea of hurting humanity Jesus was moved with compassion to "heal" the sick.

Matthew 15:32 ... Knowing the needs of the people Jesus moved in compassion to "feed" the hungry.

Mark 1:41 ... Hearing the request of the leper Jesus was moved with compassion to "reach out and touch."

Simply put, a truly compassionate person is one who is open to caring even when it hurts.  Look with the eyes and heart of Christ in your world and see if God places someone there who stirs your heart to true compassion.

Scripture to Claim
Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Qualities of a Powerful Fellowship Part III

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. 1 Peter 3:8-9

The People Have Brotherly Love
In 1969, the Hollies singing group recorded a song soon to be a number one hit across the nation.  “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” was an almost instant hit.  Who could not be touched by the poignant words and lyrical picture painted by that song.  There is just something about how love in a relationship can lighten a load.

Peter says that when you “sum it up”, one of the qualities of a powerful church is they love like brothers.  The word used is the base word for Philadelphia – the city of brotherly love.  This is not a God-love shown to each other.  It is not “agape” love that loves without having to have a reason.  It is the human kindness which is a sign of being a child of God. Jesus said of those who followed Him, By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.  John 13:35  

Kindness in the church is not something we demand but something we displayThere are those who join for attention instead of ministry.  Such persons in a family or a fellowship soon lose their usefulness and even become problems.  But the church that makes a difference is a church with a flowing, familial kindness and love.  There are not very many organizations that refer to each other as “brother” or “sister” anymore.  It just seems so old-fashioned and out of place.  In the world today that may be so, but the truth is those in the church are my brothers and sisters in Christ.

It feels good to have a family.  There is a sense in which I feel connected and accepted when I belong to a family.  For many of us, we are the only survivors of our earthly family. Or, our family is so spread out we really have no “ties that bind” except for the fellowship of those in the church.  I have heard family members refer to one another as “blood kin”.  Well, so are my brothers and sisters in the church; we are one in the blood of Christ! 

Peter says that an important quality of a good fellowship is that it feels like a family.  We could not agree more.

Scripture to Claim
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; (2 Thessalonians 1:3)

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